What would Aurora be like if it wasn’t so closely tied to the water of Cayuga Lake? That’s one question posed by a traveling Smithsonian exhibit about human connections to water that will come to Wells College Saturday.
The "Water/Ways" exhibit, which was recently on loan to the Erie Canal Museum in Syracuse, will be displayed in Long Library on the Aurora campus from Aug. 17 to Sept. 29.
“It’s an exhibit that focuses on water and its environmental impacts on human life, its cultural impacts on human life and historical impacts on human life,” said Tiffany Raymond, a reference librarian at Wells College. She’s also going to install the "Water/Ways" display.
The Museum Association of New York chose six institutions from across the state — including ones in Syracuse, Buffalo and Glens Falls — to host "Water/Ways" over the course of 2019 and the first half of 2020. Raymond saw "Water/Ways" when it was at the Erie Canal Museum, and also helped to set it up there. The exhibit has a series of interactive panels showing how integral water is to daily life, and another component that shows “how complicated and on a razor’s edge our water system is,” she said.
“The exhibit has a part about water as a resource that is almost in danger in terms of environmental pollution and water rights,” she said. “And those are things that are very applicable here in central New York.”
To bring "Water/Ways" to Aurora, Wells College worked with the Aurora Historical Society and the Aurora Masonic Center, which plan to host their own events related to the exhibit. The historical society will also host an exhibit called “How Cayuga Lake Shaped Aurora” on Tuesdays and Saturdays.
Traveling Smithsonian exhibits are developed by a program called Museum on Main Street and lent to rural communities that might have limited resources. With "Water/Ways," the program was in charge of deciding which locations should host the exhibit.
The project director of the Museum Association of New York, Robbie Davis, said the traveling Smithsonian exhibits are meant to draw more personal insights about a broader topic and even the playing field for museums in small towns.
“It’s a chance to dig a little deeper into the topic and understand those local connections even better,” Davis said.
He said "Water/Ways" might provoke questions like: Where would many of our jobs be if we didn’t have free access to water? How would a community be different if a lake was not present? "Water/Ways" also asks visitors to consider how water impacts geographic borders, public policy and recreation, he said.
The name recognition of the Smithsonian is useful for drawing in visitors, Davis said, but each place that hosts an exhibit offers distinct connections between the museum's topic and the community.
“We’ve seen in communities across the county, it’s that connection to the local place that actually keeps bringing people back to the organization," he said.